Which states are best at electing good presidents?

It’s election time, so I thought that I might post about something election-related.

As some of you know (I didn’t take APUSH, so if I’m ever wrong with these facts, do correct me), Nixon won his second election in a landslide. As Nixon in his second term turned out to be the president some considered the worst president the United States has ever had, and Massachusetts was the only state that didn’t go for Nixon (well, so did the District of Columbia, if you consider that a state), there was a popular bumper sticker that circulated after Nixon’s resignation that read “Don’t blame me—I’m from Massachusetts.” Well, according to data I collected, Massachusetts not only made the evidently good choice of not choosing Nixon, but also has the best record of choosing good presidents in United States history (and Alaska has the worst).

Here’s what I did. I took the latest Times, CSPAN, Siena, and USPC polls of ranking the presidents in the history of the United States and took the average ranking of each president (for example, Lincoln is on average considered the best president we’ve had, while Buchanan, the one right before him, is on average considered the worst (of course, in my opinion, I don’t agree with these; I believe that the best president we’ve had is Polk and that there were many presidents worse than Buchanan, say, the earlier Harrison or Fillmore; of course, I’m not a historian, so one should take my commentary with a larger grain of salt than you take historians’ (remember, you should always take anyone else’s opinion with a grain of salt; always question; never blindly follow anyone else’s advice (yay massive parenthetical comment stack)))). (Wow, that was quite a tangent of parenthetical comments. Back on topic…). Then, I took data on the choices of each state in voting for presidents in all the elections in the United States’ history, and I assigned scores based on how well the presidents that they chose were ranked (which is a point gain for a president in the upper half of the ranking and a point loss for a president in the lower half of the ranking, and has a magnitude proportional to how extremely good or extremely abominable they were). In the case of split votes, I assigned the proportional percentage of the point gain or point penalty. Then, I summed up the point deviations over all elections, and came up with a final score for each state that represents how good they are at electing presidents that people end up liking…and it turns out that Massachusetts does indeed end up on top, so not electing Nixon was not the only good decision they made.

I represented the data in the map below, where the lighter the shade of a state, the better they were historically at electing good presidents.

Now you might ask if there’s a bias for states that joined the union earlier, since they seem to be generally lighter. Keep in mind that although they had more time to accumulate point gain, they also had more time to accumulate point penalty, so the two should cancel out. Instead, what’s actually happening is that historians seem to think that the earlier presidents of the United States were generally better than the later presidents. If you say that’s not the fault of the states, well, that’s not quite true, since the states that joined more newly helped to elect these new presidents. Whether there’s hindsight bias on the side of the historians is a different question, but that aside…listen to Massachusetts!

UPDATE: There is a majorly fancier version of this analysis that takes into account more recent elections over at wywing.


2 thoughts on “Which states are best at electing good presidents?”

  1. “never blindly follow anyone” and “listen to Massachusetts”

    Where do you get all of this time to make graphs and stuff?

  2. Well, yeah. I guess degree of seriousness seriously doesn’t flow over the internet.

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